Beba, Kelsey, and I traveled to Srebrenica on a rainy Tuesday during my first week in Tuzla. After having spent such a long time thinking about Srebrenica and working with BOSFAM and other Bosniak Diaspora organizations, this was a painful, but important experience for me to have.
It is easy to spot the former front-lines of the conflict as you drive out of Tuzla. One moment, everything appears normal, but then you drive through a small tunnel and are once again faced with one bombed-out, burned-down house after another. It does not take long to get from Tuzla to the Federation/Republika Srpska (RS) border. As we passed the “Welcome to Republika Srpska” sign, Beba pointed out a small village on our left.
This was the first village to have minority returnees (Bosniaks) to the RS following the war’s end. Returning home was, and continues to be, a courageous thing to do, especially in this former no-man’s land. Beba told us that these women used to joke that their chickens could much more easily go back and forth between the Federation and RS than they could.
We were soon in Zvornik and could see Serbia on the other side of the Drina River. After having driven by countless ruined homes next to sparkling new, foreign-financed mosques and churches, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a very old minaret standing. This mosque was not destroyed because it is on the Serbian side of the Drina in Mali Zvornik. When Yugoslavia existed, Zvornik was connected to its sister-city across the river. Today, you need a passport, and sometimes even a visa, simply to cross the bridge to the other side.
In Kravica we passed the agricultural cooperative warehouses where over one-thousand men and boys were killed on the afternoon of July 13th. Last year, when a group of women went to place flowers at the entrance to the warehouses, they were detained by RS police and prevented from doing so. The women will try once again to commemorate their deceased relatives this year, but whether or not they will be allowed by the police to enter the Kravica warehouses is unknown.
Potocari somehow snuck up on me. I thought we were still in Bratunac when all of sudden Beba told me to look to the right and not the left. I was looking to the left because I had spotted the old DutchBat UN barracks at the Potocari battery factory and figured we must be close. Thousands of white and green graves extended from only a few feet from the road all the way up the hillside. Over 500 more people whose remains have been identified will be buried at Potocari this July 11th.
It was easy to see that international attention focuses on Potocari on July 11th only – there were perhaps five other visitors at the memorial. We walked around for a bit reading the different names and birth years. In many places you could tell that a father and son were buried side by side. Sometimes there was a space between them and Beba told us this usually means that their is another family member, maybe another son, or a grandfather, whose remains have not yet been identified.
We left Srebrenica and went on to a much more pleasant activity – a visit to Magbula!
Magbula Divovic lives on the side of a lovely hill overlooking Potocari. I had heard many stories about her from Beba and Iain Guest (AP’s Executive Director) and was excited to meet her. What I did not know about Magbula was that she grows almost every kind of fruit I have ever seen in her garden. In addition to the normal coffee and some delicious cake, we were offered raspberries, blackberries, plums, and cherries!
You can tell from the instant you meet Magbula that she’s a very energetic lady. She hardly sat the whole time as she animatedly told Beba about her relatives, a carpet for her granddaughter which she is working on, and a recent delegation of Croat women who came to visit Potocari. It was a pleasure for me to meet Magbula, and I hope that someday soon there will be a BOSFAM branch in Srebrenica so that she won’t be all alone while weaving.
It had begun to pour and so our tour of the town of Srebrenica was not as extensive as it normally would have been. Beba drove us around to the school where she used to the work and showed us the street she grew up on. As a former teacher, Beba remembers when Srebrenica was a lively place, full of children. As we drove up and down Srebrenica’s main street, the city appeared dead. This may have been mostly due to the weather, but when I think of the current differences between Tuzla and Srebrenica, it is easy for me to understand why so many IDPs would prefer not to return to their former homes.
We returned to Tuzla through the downpour. After hydroplaning at least three times, Beba told me not to worry – she used to drive a UN Land Rover around during the war. I told her that she could drive however she liked in a Land Rover, but that I would prefer not to end up in the Drina! Needless to say, we made it back to Tuzla alright. I am sure my next visit to Srebrenica – for the July 11th commemoration – will be very different. However, I think it was important to see Potocari, and the town of Srebrenica, as they are most days of the year – gray, empty, and I fear, forgotten.
Posted By Alison Sluiter
Posted Jul 2nd, 2009